Change in higher ed often occurs slowly. In this episode, Dr. Blase Scarnati joins us to discuss how community organizing strategies can be used to formulate changes that can be supported, or at least not resisted, by all stakeholders.
Blase is a Professor of Musicology and Director of Global Learning and the Center for International Education at Northern Arizona University.
- Dr. Blase Scarnati: Academia.edu site
- Boyte, H. C. (2013). Reinventing Citizenship as Public Work: Citizen-Centered Democracy and the Empowerment Gap. Kettering Foundation. 200 Commons Road, Dayton, OH 45459.
- Industrial Areas Foundation
- Chambers, E. T. (2018). Roots for radicals: Organizing for power, action, and justice. Bloomsbury Publishing.
- Romand Coles – at the Institute for Social Justice at Australian Catholic University
- Community Organizing Resource List compiled by Dr. Blase Scarnati
Rebecca: Change in higher ed often occurs slowly. In this episode, we examine how community organizing strategies can be used to formulate changes that can be supported, or at least not resisted, by all stakeholders.
John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.
Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…
John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.
Rebecca: Together we run the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the State University of New York at Oswego.
Rebecca: Today our guest is Dr. Blase Scarnati. Blase is a Professor of Musicology and Director of Global Learning and the Center for International Education at Northern Arizona University. Welcome Blase.
Blase: Yeah, thanks so much, John and Rebecca. I’m so very happy to be here with you.
John: Very pleased to have you. Our teas today are:
Blase: I’m drinking my daily Chinese green tea Dragonwell Long Jing
Rebecca: Yum, Jasmine green tea,
John: I have Tea Forte black currant tea, again.
Rebecca: So we wanted to talk a little bit with you today about using organizing strategies to make institutional change. Change in colleges and universities, as we all know, can be a very slow process. [LAUGHTER] And you’ve worked on some ways to overcome this. Can you talk a little bit about your approach?
Blase: Yeah, we found that using community organizing theory and practice can be really a very powerful way to build a collaborative consensus for change. And especially around working to bring together folks around curricular change across campus, and especially across diverse units and disciplines. We adapt the work of political theorist Harry Boyte, who’s in Minnesota and I’m lucky to work with Harry quite a bit. He’s one of the founders of the field of civic studies, and his concept of Public Work, which is really a route that the citizens are co-creators of the polity. So that’s a very, very powerful idea. So everything that we have done here to bring about change is grounded in flat democratic practices, so that everyone is an equal collaborator, and co-creator in any sort of initiative. And again, at no surprise to anyone, that often runs counter to the hierarchical organizations of the Academy. So it can create a little dissonance, but it keeps the blood flowing. So we’ve used key community organizing theories and practices, such as power mapping, to understand the formal and informal power centers in your institution. And these are the people and committees and units that you’re going to need to work with to bring about change. So, one-on-one meetings, to build public relationships and coalitions and alliances towards common goals, especially with people that you don’t know, and cultivating practices of mutual accountability, learning to strategize action, and especially working with the well known cycle of organizing which mirrors our academic practice of research: where you do research, planning, action, and critical evaluation. And they ceaselessly follow and inform one another. A really good primer for all this kind of work, if you’re interested is Ed Chambers, the longtime head of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), a really powerful community organization that’s been around since the 40s, and the work of Saul Alinsky. His books, especially Roots for radicals: Organizing for power, action, and justice a continuum of books from 2004 and their multiple editions, is really particularly good.
Rebecca: I have a question. How does a faculty member of musicology come to this work?
Blase: I’ve wandered quite far afield and while I still publish and present in musicology, especially critical improvisation studies, jazz and reggae, and even country music… became involved in our liberal education program…. and in our faculty senate, been faculty senate president… was hired to be our founding director of our first-year seminar program, which I established, and started collaborating with newly hired, endowed chair, Rom Cole’s who came over from Duke University, he’d been there for 20 years. And we started collaborating around this community engagement methodology. And we kind of situated it in with working with our first-year students and community members and ultimately it proved to be quite successful.
John: Many systems have a whole lot of bureaucracies that are designed to thwart any type of change. Could you give us an example of perhaps how you work through that first- year program? What was the issue that you wanted to address? And how were you able to build that coalition and work towards that goal?
Blase: We’ve used community organizing strategies actually here on campus, I’ve worked with a number of folks around a couple of different initiatives: one’s the first-year seminar program, another with my colleague, Michelle Miller, who you’ve had on as a guest a number of times, and in our first-year Learning Initiative. And that’s more focused around kind of key gateway large-enrollment classes and changing the pedagogy to create much more interactivity. And the first-year seminar program as well, they were both really founded to help us really increase student retention. And also, I’ve done a lot of work around global learning. And we have our Global Learning Initiative, which I helped to co-create in 2010. And that’s an across-the-curriculum initiative where we established three themed student learning outcomes for all undergraduate programming in our liberal education program around diversity, sustainability, and global engagement. And they’re grounded in long standing campus values. And that also proved to be pretty successful. Just back to your question, though, around the first-year of seminar program, we were able to pull together some initial seed funding to establish a series of action research teams, which is kind of a framework we pulled up from K-12. But they were flat sort of umbrella organizations where we had students from multiple course sections coming together, and with graduate student mentor who had some background in training that we provided to them. So, work with community partners. So, we were trying to shift the boundaries of where the university was to embrace those deep centers of learning and knowledge in the community. And to create these sort of flat reciprocal learning spaces where faculty can learn from community members and students can teach. And everyone works around issues that fundamentally the community itself has identified. So back to Harry Boyte, who I mentioned, there’s kind of a spectrum of civic engagement. And a lot of what happens in the university and in the academy is labeled service, where they’re good projects that individuals, especially in the university identify and they go out in the community, and they do good, well enough, but this is kind of the other end of the spectrum, that public work corner of things where the work is at root, political… in the sense that has real impact on real people’s lives. And the only way that you can kind of move into that collaborative space is to have the community itself really determine what those issues are, that really are of concern. And so we were dealing with immigration… we’re here in Arizona… weatherization… water issues… food issues… a range of very powerful, impactful issues, and also working with elementary schools in town too, where the students would identify issues in their communities. Sunnyside neighborhood, for example, has a large undocumented population… there’s diabetes as a big issue… and also a large off-res native population as well. So it’s very, very invigorating work, it takes a lot of time, but the results can be quite, quite powerful. And it actually starts to attract and generate a lot of interest with colleagues and others.
Rebecca: You mentioned the gateway courses as well, at this first-year level and I heard something about changing the way faculty are going to teach? Sometimes that can be a challenge to get faculty to change. Can you talk a little bit about how you got the community on board… like the faculty…
Rebecca: …to buy into the idea of changing their practices to be more effective, and how that was able to go through a systematic change throughout the institution?
Blase: Yeah, there was a lot of kind of the root method that we used in the first-year Learning Initiative with my colleague, Michelle Miller was that we had a target list of key gateway classes, I think, as I mentioned before,like Bio 101… traditionally, very, very large enrollment… they’re just the foundation courses that you need to get through… they have huge impact on a range of different majors. And traditionally, they’re taught in large lecture halls… you know, PowerPoint slides, and so forth. And the DFW rates were really quite, quite high. And also then, consequently having a really negative impact on progression to graduation and retention of students. So we started to work very, very collaboratively with those faculties. We talked to departments, we had a lot of one-on-one meetings with important colleagues, we kind of did some power mapping… and again, tried to figure out who are the people that we really need to be talking to, to ensure that when they start speaking about this issue, then their colleagues will pay attention to… or those that actually make decisions, in perhaps the hierarchy itself. And we spent a lot of coffee-shop time, so we would get off campus intentionally… you know, meet in their office or your office, you just kind of break the whole sort of standard thing, and you move yourself into a different space. And a lot of times working with these faculty, they’re kind of straitjacketed… I mean, they just have to get from point A to point B, the end of the semester… punch the ticket, and they have active research agendas. So how to really re-engage them deeply… and one of the most powerful ways that we found were to kind of work with groups of faculty around a single course, and especially with the idea of really kind of developing a syllabus of practice. So there’s kind of a common broader agreement about what this course might mean… what Bio 101 might mean over 11-16 sections, with maybe eight to 12 different faculty members. One of the key questions that we always ask when we meet people individually, or even in small groups, is “What have you always wanted to do?” There are a 1000 reasons never to do that, right. There are financial reasons, time reasons, resources, and manpower to help you do grading and so forth, and we were able to come in with some funding for peer teaching assistance, and just help to open that space up. They may be stuck in a large lecture hall. But yes, you can have students turn to the folks to the right and to the left and start to engage in a conversation. There are just thousands of different sort of pedagogies that can be really quite impactful, to kind of break down that “Just let me talk to you continually.” And the literature is really just filled with them. But I think from my perspective it all kind of grew from “What have you always wanted to do?” So you can really break through all the reasons not to, to touch the passion that is in most of us in the academy, and to really help folks connect to that and have that passion, drive that change. So they own it. It’s not my passion, it’s not my program, it’s not my funding… to try to achieve something that people will dutifully participate in. But now they own that process. And kind of another subtext to all of this… in Arizona, for example, in our institution, in about eight years, we lost 60% of state funding. So there were some radical realignments of what we are as an institution. We have 38,000 students, so we’re not a small institution, we’re one program short of Research 1, so it’s a very active community and campus. But at the same time, people felt the walls closing in. And they really felt a strong loss of agency. And they really couldn’t affect events. So one of the things again, in my vantage and perspectives gained working in the Faculty Senate helped them inform this as well. But we really decided that we’re going to focus on curriculum from the faculty side of things, there was great alignment with administration at the time, which was great. So from a faculty perspective, we own curriculum, that is our province, and our institution as part of our faculty constitution. So curriculum can be that space to really re-empower, reinvigorate and get people excited again, because fundamentally, they own it. And often, we’ve kind of deeded and passed things over either to administrators, or just let inertia take hold and carry things forward. Again, there was a confluence of interest in sort of a Venn diagram, if you will, between administrative interest around retention, the DFW rates, and a couple of these different initiatives that I was positioned in and the desire to reinvigorate faculty agency. So that also became a very powerful driver on campus.
John: If someone wanted to do this type of approach to make some type of change on their campus, how would you go about starting to develop that power mapping?
Blase: That’s really key and fundamental, because you have to really understand who and what you’re going to be confronted with, once you start to talk to colleagues about things that are of mutual interest. And there are a lot of different ways to power map and the Industrial Areas Foundation way, that I mentioned in Chambers’ book earlier, it’s really particularly useful. So, power mapping can help you determine where are the centers of power on campus and within that where is our support for any particular issue? And where’s the the opposition? And who do we need to engage in critical conversations, to move an agenda forward? So within all that, who are the key decision makers? And the formal decision makers, they’re easy to find… they’re on the org chart… they are in the committee structure. But the informal decision makers are much more difficult to determine. And that takes a lot more time and it’s actually a bit more nuanced. And a lot of conversations, especially outside of your usual circles are going to have to be pursued to help get a sense of who are those folks that when we’ve mentioned before, when they say something, or when they offer an opinion or offer their support will bring others along? How will the decision to adopt a particular issue be made? And again, the formal and informal decision making processes… and to build a coalition you need to determine who are potential allies? What motivates our allies and friends? And what risks are they willing to take? So, where are the lines? So that you can really always be positioned in the most powerful way to help move the agenda forward? Another part of that coalition is really who owns this issue on your campus? The Global Learning Initiative, like I mentioned, tapped into very long standing campus and are actually community and regional values around diversity and sustainability, and global engagement. Diversity on campus have Ethnic Studies Program, or Women and Gender Studies program, we have a set of commissions on campus that are very interested in promoting these… Commission on Ethnic Diversity, the Commission on the Status of Women, the Commission on Diversity, Access and Design and so forth. They’re all interest groups that have a strong say, and rightly so, have deep, deep expertise around these issues and want to be involved in any conversations. So, who do you need to talk to before you start? What kind of support do you need to bring this all about? Who will our action upset and at what costs? And then finally, the opposition… who will oppose us and why? And it’s really important to understand why because at some point, you need to try to get the opposition to a point where they’re not actively opposing you. They may they never be a supporter, they may never be leading the parade, but getting to a point where they’re just not going to just block and lock things up completely. So, what are their interests? What motivates them? What’s their relative strength? And who are their supporters? And once you have this map of supporters, potential members of the coalition, those an opposition in your institution, then you start reaching out, and building those public relationships. You go out and have coffee, you spend a lot of one-on-one time with folks, not to become their friend, but to establish those common interests that you have around these issues, even those in opposition. Where’s the common ground that you can build upon? Ultimately, at the end, end of the day, that’ll help lay out the pathway forward. But I want to talk about one-on-ones just briefly… Classic community organizing is that you just don’t meet with every possible person, especially with time being short, and you’re wanting to move an issue forward. The critical people are the ones in your power map, those that have actual decision-making powers and have influence. So, classical community organizing methodology is you’ll only usually meet with leaders of groups, because those leaders can bring the group along. Always keep that in mind. Sure, you meet with anybody that wants to meet with you. But, strategically, really make sure your time has maximum impact on things by always talking with people that can bring others along and can persuade, and ideally, they embrace… they own the set of issues. And they’ll be the champions. From my experience, that’s where a lot of the power comes from.
Rebecca: Blase, can you talk a little bit about how you identify those informal decision makers or those informal influencers?
Blase: Yeah, that can be rather difficult. At the same time, if you’re not already out, and a member of your broader faculty polity, if you will, where you’ve been able to come to know a lot of different people from across various colleges and units and programs, then you need to start talking with those people that have done that. So that can be part of your power mapping too. They can help say, “Well, you know, you really need to talk to this person, because when they speak people up and down the hallway will listen; when they get up in the faculty meeting, everybody will give them the benefit of the doubt.” Those are the kind of folks that you want to start talking with, and try to see Is there a resonance between your issue and the group that you’re working with and their priorities, and ideally, move that conversation as quickly as possible, up to 30,000 feet. Talk about common values that you have collectively, as faculty, as an institution, as community, because once you start getting into disciplinary ways of doing, then you can easily get mired in a turf battle. But if we talk about what’s common among all of us, it’s a lot easier to help pull and to submerge a lot of that trench warfare that we often discover miring us in the academy when we try to do anything.
John: At the start of our discussion, one of the things you mentioned was reaching out to students and to the broader community. That’s not something that always happens in curricular change.
John: How have you gone about doing that? And how has that added to the effectiveness of the change?
Blase: These days, I mostly work around global learning and with colleagues around those diversity, sustainable and global engagement values and issues, especially through the curricular frame. When this all started our Global Learning Initiative in 2010, it was based in programs and departments. So, it was a very formalized process where there were department teams that came together and worked on outcomes, and we used backward design and doing curricular maps to achieve the outcomes, and so forth, and assessment. But these days, as we continue to turn the wheel, we’ve begun to organize broad collaboratives around diversity, sustainability, and global engagement. Within them, we invite community members and invite graduate students, undergraduates, to come and begin to dialogue across departments, across disciplines. Just fundamentally, the strongest way to have something change in a hurry is have students and moms and dads begin to push that issue. That’s what ultimately will really move things and, to a lesser degree, the broader community. But just from my perspective, community members and students bring all sorts of pools in knowledge and abilities. For many of us, it’s a difficult issue. faculty were often caught in our frame of being credential. So we need to allow and basically cede control to this larger flat, democratic space where consensus can be built and really wonderful ideas can bubble up, it seems for administrators that can even be more of a challenge, to let go and trust your colleagues, that they’ll really do the right thing, without trying to put your hand in the back of the mannequin, and help to steer where things are going without being seen to do so. So from my perspective, the broader the group coming together to dialogue around curriculum, I mean, community members will really be talking about real world impacts and real lives, students will be talking about their aspirations: what do they need to really, from their vantage to be successful in life. And then faculty, we have our strong and deep disciplinary ways of knowing and doing, that we can help to shape and bring that together into a curriculum that can begin to capture really all of that.
Rebecca: So you talked a lot about bringing people together to form a coalition around some common ideas and values. Once you have that group of folks together, what do you do next, actually make the change happen. So you got people on board…
John: …to move it down from that 30,000 foot level to the nuts and bolts of actually moving forward.
Rebecca: Yeah… and be practical.
Blase: From my perspective, it isn’t you establish a group, then you go about working. It’s actually a continuum of work and practice. So you’re always recruiting new people, you’re always bringing more folks into the coalition. And that’s the big open set of doors, right? That’s the value. That’s the excitement. That’s the energy for change… the new thinking… and then concurrently, you keep working through how are we going to bring this to pass? At a certain point, you can tip everything, and you’ve recruited the key decision makers in the formal power structure, you’ve co-opted the curricular system, if you will, in a positive way. Because it’s our curricula system. But you build enough consensus that things begin to happen easily. So in my experience, it’s a dynamic continuum. Oftentimes, in the academy, many faculty like to put together maybe one course, or we do one initiative, and we work on it, and we do it really well. In my experience, what’s really succeeded, working with colleagues, is establishing almost a vortex of initiatives. A colleague of mine, who I’ve done a lot of collaborating with, Romand Coles, who came from Duke, he’s now most recently from the Social Justice Institute at Australian Catholic University in Sydney, we’ve written a lot about how to do a lot of this sort of stuff. And that’s all based on kind of civic engagement and agency programming for first-year students and others. And if anyone’s interested, they go on my academia.edu site. And you can find all of those articles. But he’s really fascinated by, coming out of biological sciences, the concept of eco tones were two sort of different biological systems, where they cross and where they meet. And that’s a very fructiferous and rich zone full of potentiality. And it’s a very exciting place to be… much like in the academy, oftentimes, the cracks between disciplines… exciting work and happen there. We tried to always sit and find that kind of eco tonal spaces, if you will, and really push and, instead of doing one project, for example, in our first-year seminar Action Team project, we set up 16 different umbrella organizations. Within each, they had multiple different working groups. Some of them lasted multiple years. Students took ownership, they developed their own leadership structure, working with community around very powerful issues I was discussing earlier: immigration, water issues, the undocumented and so forth, and others would last the semester. From my perspective, you want to saturate the airspace with activity. So back to what we’re talking about, as you’re organizing around an issue, you want to generate as much activity as you can… you kind of get a swirl of activity going, it becomes a locus… a center of gravity, that starts to pull others in, because “Hey, something’s happening, this is exciting.” What’s going on? There’s change, my gosh.” In the academy change is the rare animal, right? We don’t engage in it very much, and especially change that can touch people’s passion, beyond just disciplinary work and practice. So that can be a special pocket to try to position yourself in.
John: You talked a little bit about the first-year seminar program. Could you talk about one of the other things you’ve mentioned in terms of local issues, such as immigration, or the undocumented? What types of programs were put in, and how have they been working?
Blase: Yeah, I’m not working with our first-year seminar program any longer. It’s deeply political work. And as we changed presidents and wind s shifted, and the legislature became much more activist, sadly, our funding was cut. I mean, at the high point, we had 600 students working with more than 40 community partners each year, and we were showcased at the Obama White House in 2012. So it can be very strong, very, very powerful. There are a lot of really powerful pedagogies that you can help students… usually you never do this with first-year students, this is usually a senior project. Because first-year students are thought to be undirected, not to have that many skills, but they really can develop these skills quickly and develop voice, which is often what we were trying for. So developing agency… sets of tools to how to bring people together, and a voice in a sense of where as their particular passion, just key pedagogies or just democratic decision making in the classroom. While you may come in and have a framework around a set of issues, you might have the relationships with community members, and you might have a sense of the types of activities you want to do. There’s enormous latitude for having the class make decisions in common and the literature is replete with all sorts of ways to go about this. But just establishing that kind of democratic decision making on day one is really, really critical. We also use public narrative, which is created by Marshall Ganz at Kennedy Center in Harvard. And it really helps students begin to find their voice and agency through a couple of different steps where they start out with their individual story of themselves. They connect with others and what motivates us together as a group, the “us” collectively in the class and the community and provides an opportunity to strategize common action and going forward in the now. So there are a lot of different ways to go about this. But there’s some really good frameworks that help you do this. We’ve talked a lot about that collective way of bringing faculty and others together. But again, it’s the same set of democratic flat principles at work, even in the classroom. But you’re talking about specifics, and maybe just to kind of do a little quick validation. So the Global Learning Initiative that we mentioned, in three years, we were able to get 80% of undergraduate programs out of 91 programs in total at that time completed in our process of developing outcomes assessments and curricular map of learning experiences in study abroad because one of the parts of the Global Learning Initiative was to provide an optional semester that students could study abroad and not have them fall behind. So they would work with our Center for International Education and the center would develop reciprocal exchange relationships, and especially placing students in courses that our faculty had confidence of the experience, and data from Angelina Palumbo, or Director of Education Abroad here at NAU, we saw 136% increase in the number of students going abroad in over eight years from the beginning of that initiative until almost a decade later. Basically, those students that were involved in study abroad had an 87% graduation rate, which was 30 points higher, I think, than our average. The first-year Learning Initiative, my colleague, Michelle Miller, and I have written about FILI and how to do it and some of the impacts and you can find an article that she and I published on my academia.edu site.
John: Could you give us an example or two of how one of these programs was structured in practice?
Blase: Well, for example, in our first-year seminar program, we established an arts through all mediums action research team. Again, I’m Professor of musicology, so this was all very performative. We have a number of different courses, talking about public art, political art, visual sound art, poetry, then so the early days of slam poetry. so we had students organizing slam poetry events, and had hundreds of students attending it. We had the curriculum created for the first-year seminars, they were all topics courses, so we could easily populate a range of different topics. We were able to pull in allied faculty to teach them. The faculty often had community partners they are working with, or we had others who were working with and have established relationships with community… and others were able to kind of join in and piggyback on them. And key to all of this was embedding assignments that deeply foregrounded working with community as part of a class. That this kind of work, doing research with public and through publics was equal to any lab type research activity, or archival research activity that are done more traditionally. So, at least there’s a parallel sort of relationship. So faculty, were doing research with students. Students were doing research with community members and knowledge holders, creating multi generational experiences. So everything from K-6th graders all the way up through Navajo elders, and so forth. So it was a very, very rich learning environment within any one of our particular arts. And it was designed that way. So, that it was a very broad range of people, activities, positions, and knowledges, focused around trying to bring about change on a particular set of issues. One of our weatherization and sustainability groups was able to work with the community and basically with Arizona’s Electrical Corporation, to fund a $1.5 million dollar revolving loan grant program where people in our poorest parts of the city could apply to do weatherization upgrades, because we’re actually, even though we’re in Arizona, we’re at 7000 feet. So we have a full four seasons, and it gets quite cold and a lot of snow in the winter and quite warm in the summers. And not as much as down in the valley, but still helping the people put in more insulation to help tighten up windows and replace things and working on the same sort of weatherization projects on community centers and buildings. It was really quite exciting. So a number of our students then kind of spun off and some that were focused more on businesses. There was a Composting Action Team, where using bicycles to go around and collect compost from businesses and places on campus. And ultimately, the movers and shakers, the students behind that as they graduated, they started their own business, which was quite successful in town. So one of the important things that we were able to do with all this, because we’re in Arizona, and we’re talking about immigration issues, right? There’s no more lightning set of issues in our state than that perhaps. And the way that we have been successful is trying to build a very large table so that you can get very progressive, very left, folks sitting down with very right leaning. They’re Mormon farmers talking about water issues, having strong alliances with progressive urban gardeners in the city, and just finding those common spaces. So when we’re talking about immigration, we’re really trying to get away from people cartooning one another’s positions, and get to the point. So, what are the impacts of immigration, there’s huge impacts on policing and crime. And if undocumented residents don’t feel safe to talk to the police, then you lose all of the community members that can help break crime cycles, and help bring those that are creating havoc in our community at bay. So it proved quite successful. We adapted and pulled the methodology and the underlying sets of issues and a broad range of directions over about 15 years here to fairly good effect. There’s just a couple of things too that I do want to say that developed writing with my colleague Rom Coles. If you want to pursue some of this business, with your colleagues, with students, with community members, you need to be really pretty capacious with respect to human differences, to be able to work really with any and all who come. Some folks you may disagree with violently. Yet, if you can create common cause around an issue that’s greater than all of us, that’s the place to be. So we’re not just talking with people who think and act like we do. And sadly, that’s becoming increasingly the norm as we’re caught in our own bubbles. You need to exhibit radical receptivity. That’s my colleague’s phrase where we stretch ourselves to listen, attentively, really to open up and be altered in the relationship you develop with others who are different from us. And we also need to develop a musicality, really emphasizing the improvisational and the experimental. So that specifically we sought to really decentralize initiative and decision making in any of these projects, as much as possible. Make the space for those engaged in pursuing distinctive projects, processes and partnerships. Give them space, just to empower people to try to fail to succeed, to spin off on other topics and projects… to proliferate. Again, if we’re in that eco tonal space, it’s always so fructiferous and just overflowing with possibilities. So the proliferation, acceleration, increasing momentum that I talked about a little bit earlier, that does create this momentum that actually maintains itself through activity that’s constantly bringing others in, constantly feeding and generating additional interest to bring others along… Patience, accountability, commitment, those sorts of things, standard community organizing values, and a strong strategic sense that you’re able to look at a situation and realize you can’t generally go from here to there, you often will have to go through multiple steps to achieve those ends. And part of that is also something that collectively we’re losing… a sense of compromise, that just inherent and community organizing is you often will need to settle for half a loaf. And in a sense that can be viewed as a failure because you didn’t achieve what you wanted, but you achieved half of what you wanted, which is fine, because then tomorrow, you start in on the other half. So nothing is static, nothing is fixed. But you do have to be able to build and achieve to keep people together and to help move things forward. It could be evolutionary, and the leaps can be quite dramatic and fast and cover a lot of ground or perhaps not. Every community’s culture is different. And the issues will be resolved variously.
John: In the academy, one of the things we started with is that change often moves slowly. And partly, that’s because individuals have this bias toward doing things the same way.
John: It reduces a cognitive load and so forth. But one of the things that seems to be common with a lot of the things you’re talking about, is the sense of purpose that people gain from this. A few episodes back, we talked to Sarah Rose Cavanagh, who talked about how we can increase students’ motivation, using control value theory… that when there’s something that they value, and when they have a sense of control, they become much more engaged in their learning, and they tend to be much more effective. And their performance improves in classes. It seems like all these projects have that in common. Both when you have students working together, or working with the community, they have a sense of purpose, and they see the value of what they’re doing. And the faculty working in these initiatives see that they do have some autonomy in a way that they may not always feel that way in other environments or in other programs. I think there’s a lot of value in what you’ve been discussing.
Blase: Yeah, I agree 100%. And oftentimes, just how do you get people out of that inertia? And we kind of opened the conversation, that question that I found powerful was “What have you always wanted to do?” and allied to that is, if you are talking about those values that people care about… whether they’re faculty, community, members, students… that just pulls you right out of your day-to-day circumstance. I’m a musicologist, an historical musicologist by training, but I care deeply about sustainability issues and the planet. And that has little formal role in my research, as a musicologist. But that’s something that I care about as a person, as someone who is part of this country in the world. And so again, that just pulls me out of where I am. If I’m taking one step and then the next step, that’s the inertia. So how do you move people beyond that, to start thinking and imagining those new spaces… uniting the head, the hand, and the heart? How do you start to move people into different places, different experiences, and assembling things in different ways so that, that energy and excitement peeks through and informs everything you do, and others can catch that excitement. And hopefully, they can feed off of that, too.
Rebecca: We often talked about student motivation, and how faculty can motivate students. But we don’t always think about how we can motivate each other, and how we can work together. Those same strategies that work on students work on your colleagues too. [LAUGHTER]
Blase: Yeah, it’s so simple. You’re talking about community organizing, and a university, by definition, is a big community… there are sub-communities… you can use power mapping, in your department all the way up through working with folks across your state. It’s just they’re very supple, and as long as you are sound and what you’re trying to achieve, then you have a lot of tools to start to build a coalition to bring them about.
Rebecca: I like what you just said, because I think some folks might have thought initially, like, “Wow, you’re at a big school, does this scale, does this scope to a smaller institution or a smaller scale problem?” But I think you just defined exactly how to do that. You can try something really small, that’s more concrete, maybe in your department, and then move up to something much bigger.
Blase: Sure. I mean, you can start at wherever you are. And especially Honestly, I think the institution that I’m in now a big state research institution, that’s a harder nut than if you’re in a smaller space, or a smaller institution where you actually physically may know more people and have a better sense of the currency and where people, orientations, and motivations are. So yeah, I think it’s scales just variously. And you’re right, it can be applied in whatever frame that you decide to begin to tackle.
Rebecca: So Blase, we usually wrap up by talking about what’s next, even though you’ve already indicated, like a million things that you’re working on. [LAUGHTER]
Blase: Yeah, well, I’m really increasingly working with colleagues from other institutions to help them kind of acquire these skills and to understand community organizing theory and methods and how they might apply them on their campus in their situation to work with faculty, students, community… and especially around global education, but I’ve done a lot of work around civic engagement and agency, and in the past, first-year programs. And that lights me up… working with people that work with people, because that can be just helping to energize and get things going. I also have a couple of articles underway, one with JY Zhou of Stockton University, a colleague of mine that we’re writing about the community organizing theory and another framework that has a lot of resonance with that. And so hopefully, that’ll be coming out… and continuing our collaboratives here on campus faculty, student, community, collaboratives, and disciplinary articles. I’ve got a book chapter coming on Willie Nelson, and lots of presentations at conferences… the standard fare. But fundamentally this kind of work. It’s just so, so exciting. Thank you for the chance to talk about it with you.
Rebecca: Thank you so much, Blase
John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.
Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.